What makes our young men brutal monsters?

2012-04-21 08:55

Every week, City Press runs at least one article that makes my blood boil. The story of an Eastern Cape school run from rotting bungalows was one; the tragedy of a teenager allegedly raped, impregnated and then murdered by her policeman father was another.

As a news editor, though, my job is to care, be moved and then to move on – to sit back in my chair, cock my head and consider how best to edit a story, to rearrange its salient points and work with reporters to create something truly compelling.

So why then did a series of tweets about a gang rape in Dobsonville send me into a blinding, trembling rage this week?

What was so different about this crime, one in a litany of horror stories that litter our pages, our Twitter timelines, our dinner party conversations, our very consciousness as South Africans?

There was a video – and people wanted to see it. People wanted to huddle around their computers and watch, maybe several times, maybe occasionally hitting the pause button or rewinding the action as a teenage girl was held down and raped by numerous young men.

They wanted to see her scream and to hear her beg for mercy.

They wanted to hear those men laugh and joke, and egg one another on. Amid the anger and the devastation, the condemnation and the heartache – voyeurs. Scores and scores of people unashamedly asking Talk Radio 702 to make the video available on its website.

One man popped up on my Twitter timeline: “Is there a #RapeVideo making the rounds? where is it? lol wanna
see that”.

Indeed, what could be funnier than sitting back and watching a woman being raped?

Many years ago, as a younger reporter, I covered the trial of nine men accused of murdering a Khayelitsha teenager, Zoliswa Nkonyane.

Eventually, four of the nine would be convicted of her murder – a hate crime – because she was a lesbian. During the trial, the accused were treated like heroes.

Each time they appeared, their friends, neighbours and relatives would pack the courtroom and cheer as the young Turks swaggered into the dock.

They were handsome, virile men to make their families proud. Their parents ululated. Girls swooned and giggled when any of the accused turned around and gifted them with a wink.

They had proved their masculinity and dominance by kicking, hitting and beating a young woman with golf clubs and bricks.

Is this what the young men in Dobsonville were doing? Proving themselves? Using their bodies as weapons and the teenager’s as a battlefield? I think so.

They may not be treated like heroes, but their behaviour is hardly unusual in South Africa today. In fact, it’s not out of the ordinary anywhere in the world. Last year, an 11-year-old girl was gang-raped by 18 young men and teenagers in an east Texas trailer park.

Attention quickly turned to what the girl had done to spur on her attackers. She wore make-up. She flirted.

It wasn’t long before the Dobsonville teen’s mother became the focus of reports here. She had failed her daughter, people argued.

No mention of the girl’s absent father. Very few questions about the mother’s capacity to cope with raising a daughter with learning difficulties.

It’s far easier to speculate about what’s wrong with women than to ask hard questions about what we’re doing to create so many monsters out of so many men.

This week, I will read other stories that will make my hands tremble. But I will probably stick to my most familiar role: cocking my head to one side, squinting a little and finding just the right spot for that quote.

In the back of my mind, though, a teenager will be screaming for help, begging us to listen and to stop seven boys from hurting her.

Don’t hit pause, rewind or forward that video on to anyone else. Stand up, open your mouth and shout louder than she ever could. Shout for justice.

Scream for answers. Disarm those boys and help them become the men they ought to be.

» ?Joseph is news editor at City Press

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